My lifelong friend and actor Dinah Manoff shares her experiences living in the Malibu Colony in the home owned by my family. To me, her life is a profound expression of courage and strength born through pressures similar to what creates diamonds.
In Dinah’s words: “In 1966 my mother (actress and director Lee Grant), her partner “Joey Feury” and 8-year-old me moved from our apartment in Manhattan to 37A Malibu Colony. Initially we were going to stay for a couple of months. My mother landed a recurring TV role on “Peyton Place” and won an Emmy, and we never went home.
Malibu. How could people really live there year-round? Growing up in New York, beach towns were for summer vacations. There was something abnormal about being tan in December. Our rental was on the land side of the Colony and had its own swimming pool. There was beach access right across the street.
Living in The Colony offered a freedom I never knew existed. I played unsupervised from after school until dinner and then again until bedtime. The road was a sport court for biking and handball, the beach our playground. Unlike my childhood in the vast population of New York City, no one said, ‘Be careful’ or ‘Don’t talk to strangers,’ because everyone knew everyone. Even our phone numbers were only four digits long since every number in our part of Malibu started with 456. There was an unspoken superiority over the 457s who went to a different school north of us.
On weekends, my best friend and I would play “Harriet the Spy,” peeking into the guard house and sneaking into the vacant homes, making notes in our “spy notebook.” We even spied on the police, who had an outpost in a conference room across from the Colony Coffee Shop and Pharmacy. Oh, that coffee shop! Every Friday afternoon my girlfriends and I sat at the salmon-colored Formica counter, drank cherry phosphates and ate hot fudge sundaes.
Adjacent to our house was a weedy lot with a path that led to the back stairs of the Bank of America. Next to that, with no wall or fence, was a rundown lot with “Lucky Lucas” living in a tin and wood shanty. He played instruments and cooked outside. His daughter Mercedes and I walked to the school bus stop every morning. Word had it they were “Gypsies.” Mercedes was shy and very pretty with curly brown hair, big eyes and round rosy cheeks. Sometimes I’d hear her father yelling at her in another language. The rundown living situation was unimaginable, but the Colony was different then.
Further down from Mercedes was one of the tennis courts where residents held big fancy parties and famous actors and actresses drank and danced before stumbling home over the speed bumps. Joey grew his hair long and wore caftans to the Mayfair Market. Though my mother never once put on a bathing suit, she perfected a no-make-up look to suit the beachy lifestyle. Our house filled with the scent of what they told me was “Turkish tobacco.”
My mother’s castmates, Ryan O’Neal, Mia Farrow and others had homes nearby. Dyan Cannon lived in #98 Colony. Once, Cary Grant drove by in a Rolls Royce looking for his lost dog. These new, glamorous friends drifted in and out of our home: Jack Warden, Burgess Meredith, Bruce Dern and Diane Ladd. When my mother was filming “In the Heat of the Night,” Sidney Poitier came for dinner. He kissed me on the cheek—I didn’t wash my face for days after!
Rarely did the outside world disrupt our sunny, idyllic existence, though there were always rumors of a giant tidal wave coming ashore. Periodically the tides did rise, flooding the patios and sometimes even rooms of the beachfront homes. Sandbags were filled. The neighborhood came together in the spirit of camaraderie. This was, after all, the price of paradise!
I became self-conscious, partly because being Jewish, I had received some unkind comments. Feeling afraid and jealous, constantly comparing myself to the Copper-toned long-limbed blondes who surrounded me in the Colony and in my classroom. I hadn’t been raised religious; our family, in fact, celebrated Christmas. So why was I being picked on? Was it my short stature? My hair? My nose? Now, in the afternoons when I walked home from the bus stop, I felt wary not really knowing who my friends were. I began to have nightmares about tidal waves. The ocean, once a source of freedom and fun, became threatening. I feared being swept away by the undertow.
In my novel, The Real True Hollywood Story of Jackie Gold, this significant time in my childhood became the basis and inspiration for my protagonist—her need to fit in, to be accepted. Her story begins in the Colony and there are chapters devoted to the coffee shop as it existed then. And while it is by no means a memoir, both Jackie Gold and I went through a period of re-creating ourselves in order to pass beyond invisible velvet ropes that seemed to block our access to preferred starring roles.
We left the Colony after three years and our new home was on 15 acres on a bluff overlooking Zuma Beach. Despite the challenges I’d been facing, I missed the freedom of walking and riding my bike everywhere. Now when I wanted to go to the store or see friends, I depended on an adult to drive me; but at least we had landed on a spot the tidal waves couldn’t reach.”
Mr. Malibu: I watched Dinah’s journey amazingly evolve from her Malibu childhood into playing outstanding roles in “Grease,” “Ordinary People,” and landing a starring role in NBC’s “Empty Nest.” On camera, her exceptionally sharp and witty comedic acting has been brilliant. Today she is a solid, healthy and well-grounded person who has not allowed unexpected severe losses to bring her down. Instead, she turned it around and published her book.
Cary ONeal’s high-profile events and celebrity interviews reach over 22 million on television, 500,000 via social media and nearly 4 million on YouTube. Visit MalibuHD.com and HeartAscent.com to learn more. Look for more Mr. Malibu chapters in next month’s issue.